Known for his unique way of persuading others to see and believe in his vision, the late George King Brown proudly carried on his family’s tradition of hard work, leadership, and philanthropy throughout his life.
Brown had a zest for life that rivaled the Energizer Bunny. He made the most of every day of his life, squeezing every ounce of fun and enjoyment out of any situation. Even in his 80’s, he would run circles around everyone and managed to survive three bouts with cancer. He was a world traveler, avid amateur photographer, scuba diver, and lifelong skier; but, what he will long be remembered for is his family business, Wyandot, Inc., and his constant dedication to bettering the lives of the people of Marion.
Life for Brown began in 1925, one of three sons of the late W. Hoover and Ava (King) Brown. He was raised at Etowah, meaning “beautiful place”–also known as King’s Mansion, now the home of Central Christian Church. In 1936, he witnessed his parents founding Wyandot Popcorn in a one room school house.
He graduated from Marion Harding High School in 1943 and, shortly thereafter, was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the European Theatre during World War II. He then attended Purdue University, graduating with a degree in agriculture in 1950. While there, he met his first love, Millie Purcell, with whom he eloped in 1949. After graduating, the couple returned to Marion to join the family business.
Over the many years he dedicated himself to Wyandot Popcorn, he served in many capacities, starting as a salesman and rising to Vice President, President, Chairman of the Board, and Consultant to the President. In 1992, Brown retired from his day-to-day work and from the Board in 1996. Wyandot remains a major player in the snack food industry.
A creative and inspiring philanthropist, Brown made it his mission to invest himself in Marion and the many great organizations he strongly believed in. He was a Rotarian and served the United Way Campaign as chairman and president, receiving their “Outstanding Citizenship Award” in 1976.
Despite serving on a large number of community boards, Brown was actively involved with each of them, including the Marion Public Library, Marion Sales Ad Club, Friends of the Harding Home and Memorial, Marion Education Foundation, Marion Area Partners in Education, CAN DO, the Marion County Historical Society, Marion Technical College, Ohio State University’s School of Agriculture, and the Marion Popcorn Festival. He was honored with the Boy Scout’s “Good Scout” Award in 2009. He was one of the key catalysts in fund raising for the Marion Family YMCA and was a big supporter of the Marion Palace Theatre.
Proud of his heritage, Brown created the Wyandot Popcorn Museum in the mid 1970’s, in an effort to share and preserve the history of the popcorn industry by collecting and restoring the world’s largest assortment of popcorn antiques. He scavenged the world to find the many pieces of history to tell the story of making popcorn. His collection is a showpiece for the Marion County Historical Society, located inside Heritage Hall.
Through all of his accomplishments and endeavors, one thing always remained constant for Brown—his first wife, Millie. She was his best friend and strongest supporter. Together they shared over 55 years of marriage, and lovingly raised five children. She passed in 2004.
Getting a second chance at love, Brown reconnected with Arlene Hill Lawless, whom he had dated at the age of 17 and not seen for 60 years. Not wasting any time, Brown proposed that day and they were married soon after in April 2005. They were married for five years before Brown passed in 2010.
Brown will be among the honorees at this year’s Celebrate Marion Gala on June 1 at the Marion Palace Theatre. Additional information on the show is available at marionmade.org.